Cancer Researcher Hit With 10-Year Ban on Federal US Funding

Retraction Watch Staff

August 10, 2020

A former scientist at Wayne State University in Detroit who lost his PhD from the institution has agreed to a 10-year ban on any federally funded research after being found guilty of misconduct.

The U.S. Office of Research Integrity says Zhiwei Wang fabricated data in nine grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, as well as in three grant applications and his 2006 doctorate.

Wang's bogus data was published in 15 papers, according to the ORI, 14 of which already have been retracted. Under the terms of the agreement, Wang will ask for the retraction or correction of the 15th article, a 2008 study in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics titled "Induction of growth arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer cells by 3,3-diindolylmethane is associated with induction and nuclear localization of p27kip."

Wang was a postdoc in the department of pathology, where Fazlul Sarkar, another former Wayne State researcher, worked. Sarkar, who has lost 40 papers to retraction — including at least 35 with Wang — was the subject of a separate misconduct investigation by the institution that concluded in August 2015. (Sarkar's CV shows him as being Wang's thesis advisor.)

That 431-page report concludes:

Summary. Dr. Sarkar established in his laboratory an environment and practices which focused on high productivity in publications and grant applications but which disregarded basic checks on the integrity of data, records, and reporting. The Investigation Committee finds that the evidence shows that Dr. Sarkar engaged in and permitted (and tacitly encouraged) intentional and knowing fabrication, falsification, and/or plagiarism of data, and its publication in journals, and its use to support his federal grant applications. The Committee concludes that in establishing the maintaining this laboratory "culture," Dr. Sarkar was persistently reckless and that this recklessness enabled repeated instances of research misconduct over the years and across numerous publications and NIH grant applications and progress reports. The Investigation Committee concludes that due to his recklessness, Dr. Sarkar bears overall responsibility for each confirmed instance of research misconduct.

Sarkar also unsuccessfully sued PubPeer after posters raised questions about the integrity of his findings — claims which he said cost him a new position at another university.

According to ORI:

ORI found by a preponderance of evidence that [Wang] engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating images representing protein expression, invasion and migration assays, and electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSA) in experiments designed to identify underlying mechanisms controlling cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis in cancer so that novel targeted therapeutic agents could be identified.

The finding — one of longest we've seen — shows a staggering amount of bad faith, with individual episodes of fabrication approaching the triple digits.

That was now. But in a 2008 press release celebrating Wang's receipt of a large grant from the Department of Defense, Wayne State praised the postdoc:

"Dr. Wang's research reflects the type of ingenuity and vigor needed for fighting the most commonly diagnosed cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in the United States," said Dr. Joe Dunbar, associate vice president for Research at Wayne State. "With no practical methods for treating either Hormone Refractory Prostate Cancer or Metastatic Prostate Cancer currently in existence, Dr. Wang's work gives new hope to those battling this devastating disease, and exemplifies Wayne State's dedication to cutting edge research that will change people's lives."

Wang appears to be at Soochow University in China, after having left Wayne State for a stint at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. We could not immediately reach him for comment.

This article originally appeared on Retraction Watch.

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